BY JEREMY HOECK
As the Missouri Valley Football Conference closed the book on its record-breaking 2014 season, there wasn’t much remaining the league hadn’t accomplished.
It sent half of its teams – five, a record – to the playoffs, and for the first time ever, two teams from the same league met in the championship game. And in both postseason polls, six Valley teams cracked the top-25.
That kind of showing was going to be difficult to beat, right?
“I thought last year was going to be hard to top, and here we are with another record,” Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said Tuesday.
That record came Monday when the Valley occupied half of the top-10 in both major FCS polls, the STATS media and coaches – a first for the conference.
Though the order is slightly different, the teams are the same: North Dakota State, Illinois State, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State. And for good measure, Indiana State is also among the top-25.
Three other league teams – Southern Illinois, Western Illinois and South Dakota – were receiving votes in the media poll, which leaves Missouri State as the only conference team not receiving national recognition.
“There isn’t a team you can rest on,” Spack said. “You never have any breathing room on a Saturday afternoon.
South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier, whose Jackrabbits boast their highest FCS ranking, was quick to caution that this week’s news is probably more a carryover of 2014.
“I think initially we all need to acknowledge that it’s a result somewhat of last year’s success, which puts you in the top-25 initially,” he said. “When you have success early, it moves you up.”
In the case of SDSU (3-0), however, it likely climbed the rankings because of its FBS win over Kansas. The Jacks, though, have an opportunity to climb even higher with a win Saturday over North Dakota State – even a loss isn’t likely to drop the Jacks all that much.
That’s the story with the Missouri Valley, which begins conference play this weekend: Nearly every matchup features a ranked team, which means a playoff-caliber team will lose.
“It’s a fun league; a great league,” Stiegelmeier said.